Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Some highlights of 2009 at PLACE

Your Space or Mine?, which showed at PLACE in February 2009, was a research project based at the University of Ulster looking at the ongoing issues around interface areas

Launch of the Girli Concrete Fabrication exhibition in mid-February

The two sets of Architecture students from UU and QUB, gathered together by the RSUA's Education Committee at PLACE in March

Joan Alexander's Home Front exhibition, which launched in March, considered the lives and home environments of older people across Ulster.

A discussion on Housing for Older People at PLACE in April. Here Una Lynch of the Changing Ageing Partnership at Queen's talks about some of the group's research

The Lives of Spaces event at the Belfast Film Festival in April looked at the representation of architecture on film. The Lives of Spaces exhibition comes to Ormeau Baths Gallery in February 2010.

Julia Atkinson's Blueprint: Architects in Transit (part of Polska week in Belfast) launched back in May, showing Polish architects in the landscape they had helped shape before leaving Northern Ireland after the downturn

Non-Iconic Mackintosh by Keppie Architects looked at the commercial work of Scotland's famous son, Charles Rennie Mackintosh

The Forum for Alternative Belfast (FAB) launched to a large audience at a PLACE-sponsored event at the Black Box in June

PLACE's Garden took advantage of the lovely July weather, with Guerrilla Gardening, live music and tango dancing on the street, craft workshops for kids and loads of other greenfingered summer activities

The FAB Summer School at QUB in August attempted to map some of the vacant, derelict and otherwise unused sites in Belfast

David Turner's Cross Section and Scale exhibition of drawings looked at bomb-damaged buildings in 1970s Belfast

The Architecture in Recession panel discussion at the Black Box in September brought together former RSUA Presidents Mervyn Black and Barrie Todd, as well as John Graby of the RIAI and Paul Hyett, PPRIBA, to discuss the outlook for the profession in bleak times

One of the most popular exhibitions of the year at PLACE, James Hughes' beautiful photographs in Spectres of Place: Three Decades of Ulster Interiors (September) captured a Northern Ireland which is fast disappearing

Audrey Gahan of Gahan & Long archaeologists giving a talk on her firm's findings at the Sirocco Works site in East Belfast, in October

The Urban Environment: Mirror and Mediator of Radicalisation? launched at PLACE in November

A young fan of of Sarah Lappin's gets his copy signed at the launch of her new book Full Irish: New Architecture in Ireland in December at PLACE

And lastly, our Winter Wonderland workshops proved a hit with young people (and their parents!), making models to take home for some extra special festive cheer

A huge thank you to everyone who visited us and took part in our events this year. See you in 2010!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Love Photography? Love Architecture? Join the PLACE Flickr Group!

PLACE is seeking your images of the best buildings, townscapes and public spaces across Northern Ireland. Our new Flickr group is a showcase for Northern Ireland's Best Places and Buildings.

Whether you're a photographer, an architect or an interested amateur, we're looking for your images from across Northern Ireland of where you see quality in our built environment.

Some of the best photographs may be selected by PLACE for its promotional materials, such as the regular seasonal brochure, one-off publications and the website*.

New to Flickr?
It's easy and FREE to join Flickr, and it's a great way to show off your photography - find out more, then sign up here!

Already a Flickr user?
Join the PLACE group now and start adding your photos! Click here.

*PLACE will contact Flickr users for permission if we are interested in using an image; unfortunately we cannot offer any payment for using these images but the photographer, and architect, where applicable, will be credited. You will need to be the original owner of the image or have permission to use it.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Saturday, 21 November 2009

New titles in the PLACE Bookshop

Big delivery of new stock this week:

The Taschen 25 series: At only £8.99 each, these accessible titles, presented with Taschen's typical style, introduce the life's work of famous architects.

We also have new books on Le Corbusier, Tadao Ando and Daniel Libeskind, and Music and Architecture by Iannis Xenakis.

The BLDG BLOG Book (£19.99) features the writings of Geoff Manaugh, author of the popular BLDGBLOG ( More than 200 pages of speculation about the future of the built environment, this book is "a road trip for the intellectually curious" - Justin McGuirk, Icon Magazine.

With the future of the University of Ulster now based firmly in Belfast city, perhaps lessons can be learned from Paris. Universities in the City: The Development of the Left Bank, Paris (£24.70) looks at new academic buildings on the Paris Rive Gauche.

Architecture, Participation and Society (£29.99) asks how architects can "best increase their engagement with building users and wider social groups, and, as a result, improve the relationship between architecture and society while providing quality buildings".

New Irish Architecture 24 - AAI Awards 2009 (£21.50) is now back in stock ahead of the AAI Awards 2009 exhibition at PLACE from December 3rd 2009 - January 30th 2010.

And the new edition of the AAI's Building Material, on the theme of "Art and Architecture" (featuring Maud Cotter, Marianne O'Kane Boal, and Sylvia Grace Borda on "20 Modernist Structures in NI I love") is now on sale for £10.00.

There's lots more to check out - pay us a visit at 40 Fountain Street! If there's anything you don't see in the bookshop and you'd like to order a copy, ask us at PLACE or get in touch - email info AT place DOT uk DOT net or call 028 9023 2524.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Belfast Civic Trust AGM 2009

The Belfast Civic Trust presents its Annual General Meeting:




Guest Speaker: MARK HACKETT - Hackett and Hall Architects and the Forum for alternative Belfast


Music and Refreshments provided.

Refreshments will be served after the meeting.

Regrets only.


Friday, 13 November 2009

Sustainability Now virtual conference

Sustainability Now is a virtual event covering best practice on green legislation in the built environment - you can attend it for free on the 8th & 9th December from the comfort of your office. See the full conference programme here.

Registration: Sustainability Now

Thursday, 12 November 2009

"I think they are doing their best to create bring people together"

Visit Culture Northern Ireland for Bree Hocking's in-depth look at our current exhibition - she spoke to principal investigator Ralf Brand, co-curator Wolfgang Obermair, and some visitors at the launch last Thursday.

Culture Northern Ireland: The Urban Environment

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

PLACE's Winter Wonderland

PLACE presents its Winter Wonderland Model-Making Family Workshops! Strictly limited places available on Saturday 5th, 12th or 19th December [5th and 12th December now fully booked] for primary school-age children to construct and bring home their self-designed Christmas Crib, Santa’s Grotto or Snow Palace. Materials will be provided.

Workshops start at 10.30am and will last approx. 2 hours - children must be accompanied by a parent/guardian. Please wear old clothing or bring an apron if you have one - it might get messy!

Places very limited. £4 per child (parent/guardian goes free).
Book now! Call PLACE on 028 9023 2524 or email [email protected]

£4 per child (parents/guardians go free), materials provided

PLACE Architecture and Built Environment Centre

Workshop Location
PLACE, 40 Fountain Street, Belfast BT1 5EE

Workshop Facilitator
Jane Larmour

Booking Contact
Conor at PLACE

028 9023 2524

[email protected]

Saturday 5th December, 10.30am - 1pm [SOLD OUT]
Saturday 12th December, 10.30am - 1pm [SOLD OUT]
Saturday 19th December, 10.30am - 1pm

Morag Myerscough Talk at UU

Flyer above. Click to enlarge.

As part of the celebrations of the 160th anniversary of the School of Art & Design, Morag Myerscough will be giving an illustrated talk on Wed 18 November at 6pm in the Conor Lecture Theatre.

Morag Myerscough is a multi-award winning designer. Her work includes graphic design, signage and wayfinding, furniture, exhibition design and digital design.

Studio Myerscough website:

Monday, 2 November 2009

From the Archives: Fergus Jordan interview

Above: An example of Fergus Jordan's photography of artificial urban lighting in Belfast. Image courtesy Fergus Jordan.

Back in May, we spoke to Photography PhD student Fergus Jordan about his work and issues of lighting in our towns and cities.

"I can’t agree with a system whose main goal is surveillance, or to replace the eye of the police in the street. There needs to be more consideration about improving spaces for their communities, rather than a lighting system that is there for the removal of crime that hasn’t happened yet."

PLACE Archives: An interview with Fergus Jordan

Where the streets are to blame?

Above: Poster for November's show at PLACE. Click to enlarge.

BBC News has coverage today of the research behind the upcoming exhibition at PLACE:
Fences, parks, footbridges and even a playground can influence intense and bitter conflict between Catholics and Protestants, Dr Ralf Brand, a lecturer from the University of Manchester, has found.

But he also uncovered examples of architecture that could help heal the wounds of the Troubles.

BBC News: Where the streets are to blame?


The exhibition launches this Thursday from 6-9pm at PLACE, and continues until Saturday 28th November.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Construction Excellence Awards 2009

Above:Image of the Toome Bypass & Bridge via Belfast Telegraph

In celebration of its 10th Anniversary, the Construction Employers Federation (CEF), this year added an extra category to the Construction Excellence awards; the pursuit of the best construction project completed in Northern Ireland in the last decade. Projects had been chosen from ten categories ranging from education to entertainment. The award was determined by a public vote undertaken in conjunction with The Belfast Telegraph.

The clear overall winner, announced on the 8th October at the 2009 ceremony, was the Toome Bypass (category: roads). As a regular user of the bypass I can understand why it amassed 54% of the vote. Having reduced average travelling times between Belfast and Derry from almost 3hrs to 1hr and 30 min, this in itself is worthy of recognition. Not to mention the simplistic beauty of the bridge which spans the River Bann, a key component of the bypass.

Designed with both road users, the people of Toome and the local environment in mind the project has been a consistent success. From reducing carbon emissions through the village, the likelihood of an accident within the village and encouraging environmental change though the carefully considered landscaping surrounding the bypass (which included the planting of some 68,000 trees), whilst also retaining access to the river for leisure activities; the bypass presented a strong case against it's competitors. Comments by CEF Managing Director, John Armstrong:

“What the shortlist for the building of the decade really demonstrates is the widespread and positive impact the construction industry has had in Northern Ireland. It is no exaggeration to say that the construction industry has brought benefits to practically every single person living in Northern Ireland... The poll has generated an outstanding response from the public. The voting area of their website has had 10,000 unique visitors, over 150 comments have been left and around 16,000 votes have been cast.”

The statistics also help to illuminate the interest the public in NI have in their built environment.

The close runner up in the poll was Victoria Square, Belfast (category: retail). Another key award of the evening was the Overall Award, given to Patton Construction for Wellington Street Presbyterian Church, Ballymena.

More info
CEF Homepage
Belfast Telegraph: Construction Excellence Awards
SIB: Toome Bypass

Thursday, 29 October 2009

UU Architek10 society launches eStudio

Above: Image of Barcelona apartment taken by Roy Fitzpatrick, via

Architek10, a new student architecture society at the University of Ulster, has launched its online eStudio. The founders explain their vision for the society and the online resource below.

Architek10 was established early last year as a platform for a meaningful and altruistic architectural discourse between students, professionals and other interested parties with a desire to learn and develop. While based at the University of Ulster, the society is keen to extend its reach beyond the bounds of academic life and actively engage with the tangible context of Belfast and Northern Ireland as a whole.

Architek10 launched last summer with an inaugural lecture from Hackett-Hall-McKnight, focused around their competition winning design for the upcoming Old Museum Arts Centre (OMAC). As Architek10 becomes more established it is the intention to extend this lecture series, and is currently attempting to source a host of speakers from varying disciplines in order to inform and provoke debate.

Architek10 has recently launched their eStudio, an online base where members, participants and invited guests will publish a broad scope of material ranging from articles to photography and videos. Each piece is accompanied by a feedback column whereby visitors to the site can respond directly to the work presented, enabling dynamic debate and development available to anyone who visits the site. Once the article is read, the issues and concerns it raises along with a range of differing opinions are readily accessible beneath.

Architek10’s first newsletter is available on the eStudio. Its 10 articles cover a diversity of topics. They range from a student perspective of the FAB summer school to the parallels between architecture and music, a commentary on the inaugural lecture to a nightmarish vision of Spanish DIY and an interview with Ciaran Mackel regarding the recession.

Architek10’s eStudio can be found at We welcome all Ideas and encourage participation from anyone with an interest in Art, Architecture and the ties that bind them. If you would like to become involved in our lecture series please contact Andrew Molloy ([email protected]) or Fiona Shannon ([email protected]).

Andrew Molloy Fiona Shannon Roy Fitzpatrick

Architek10's eStudio

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

New public art commission at Belfast Harbour

Above: Site of the new public art commission at Belfast Harbour. Image via

The Belfast Harbour Public Art Commission is offering a £100,000 budget for a new public artwork at the Dargan Entrance to Belfast Harbour estate.

Submission deadline: 11th January 2010

More info:

Friday, 16 October 2009

Tactility Factory wins "Next Big Thing" award

Photograph by Amberlea Neely

Tactility Factory, who exhibited their Girli Concrete show at PLACE back in February, have won the the Northern Ireland Science Park (NISP) CONNECT’s search for ‘the next big thing’ - Ruth Morrow and Trish Belford were presented with a £10,000 cheque as overall winners of the entrepreneurs £25k Award.

Friday, 9 October 2009

This Sunday: Paul Larmour discusses the Waring Street Bank

Click to enlarge

Part of the ongoing RUA Exhibition season, Dr Paul Larmour (QUB) discusses the Waring Street Bank and its architect, Charles Lanyon, this Sunday at 3pm.

More info: Royal Ulster Academy website

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

James Hughes Competition winner

Congratulations to Niamh Madden from Co. Offaly - James Hughes has chosen her as the winner of a print from his Spectres of Place exhibition for the best comment in the book during the show - her comment is below...

Sometimes, when dust settles and cobwebs slowly creep across walls, we are reminded of how much the fragments of our lives can be reflected in objects. The dull and mute tones of several pieces in this collection are fascinating, because they show moments of nil reflection - the bike light no longer shines, the stove is matte and tarnished. Jesus looks out through once-polished glass.

These moments evoke in me a sense of hope - no longer can we see ourselves in the shined and polished surfaces, but our lives can be immortalised and reconstructed through objects left behind. Thanks to James for taking me out of myself for ten minutes of brief, but meaningful and optimistic thought.

PLACE Archives: James Hughes - Spectres of Place

Saturday, 3 October 2009

James Hughes Q&A;

Above: Detail from an image in the Spectres of Place exhibition by James Hughes, which ran at PLACE in September

Following on from the success of his Spectres of Place exhibition at PLACE in September, James Hughes speaks to A-level Art student Ellen Warwick and answers some questions about the influences, techniques and interests to be seen in his powerful photography.

1. What inspired you to get involved in photography?

I always loved art and history, but was frustrated at being unable to render well through paint, etc. I think in the end photography found me and we have been together ever since - eclipsing the original frustrations and sustaining me through a never-ending journey.

2. For how long have you been involved in photography?

Approx 30 years, a passion that is a way of life as much as a way of seeing.

3. Have any of your photographs been inspired by other artists/photographers? If so who are they and how did you come across them?

I have many who have shaped my work either directly or indirectly, indeed like life itself. I also include the equally important inspiration of poetry & literature and cinema & music as they all work together in forming my images, conscious/subconscious.

Artists: Caravaggio | Hopper | Schiele | Cornell | Keifer

Photographers: W. Evans | R. Frank | A. Sander | R. Pollidari | S. Vanfleteren

Poets: E.Pound | P.Neruda | C.Pavese | W.B.Yeats | S.Heaney | F.Pessoa

Writers: W.G.Sebald | H.Miller | G.Bachelard | D.H.Lawrence | Murakami

Cinema Directors: A.Tarkovsky | K.Kieslowski | B.Turr & the Camerawork of Christopher Doyle

Music: Bach through to Radiohead

They are all influences I’ve picked up on the journey and now they are the masters who sustain me along the way.

4. Have any of your photographs been altered in any way by using Photoshop or other programmes? If so explain alterations made.

Yes, I use Photoshop though more in a way to clean up my images and colour manage them, also to spot the negatives that need cleaning. I don’t add or manipulate them and try for authenticity in representing.

5. Have you ever tried recreating your photographs by the use of either paints or pencils?

No, though a few artists have with mixed results - for an example of one see:

6. What materials do you find most attractive and why? E.g. metal, wood, plastic or glass.

Wood for its tactile qualities and glass for its transparency and fluid qualities.

7. If you were to recreate an image of rust, which media would you be most interested in and why?

Photography as it’s my tool of choice for representing texture - maybe not so tactile a medium but the most realistic for me.

8. When you see images of rust how do they make you feel?

It conjures up feelings of industry and the trace of time, and on objects like household material culture it can represent past lives and nostalgia.

9. Do you prefer smooth surfaces or rough gritty ones and why?

Rough and gritty as it’s how I see reality, it’s also more interesting, as in not so boring.

10. What do you find most interesting about rusted and corroding surfaces?

Their texture and colour and the way rust has a life as in constant change.


Our thanks are due to both Ellen and James for their permission to reprint this interview.


More info: Spectres of Place in the PLACE Archives

Friday, 2 October 2009

UAHS win right to challenge Queen Street development

Following on from their objection back in August, the UAHS have now won the right to challenge the redevelopment of the EdCo/Athletic Stores building on Belfast's Queen Street.

A surveyors report on the condition of the building concluded that it was now over 110 years old and at the end of its useful life.

It was stressed that the plan was to replace it with a "sympathetic" development without the major faults and safety risks said to currently exist.

The developer's legal team criticised the UAHS for taking 11 months to bring an objection to the planning application, claiming this had caused significant financial pressures.

It was also stressed that the current building was, in parts, dangerous and beyond economic repair.

But granting leave to seek a judicial review, Mr Justice Weatherup held it may be arguable that the proper approach to its removal was not followed.

"When it comes to conservation area buildings it seems to me there are considerations that go beyond the economic case," he said.

He stressed, however, that the case simply called for further explanation from planning authorities which may satisfy the court.

Listing the full judicial review hearing for December, Mr Justice Weatherup was told by a lawyer for the developer that he would recommend giving an undertaking not to carry out any work on the site until proceedings are completed.

Speaking outside the court, Rita Harkin, research officer with the UAHS, said: "This is an absolutely critical case which will expose just how effective conservation areas are in conserving the historic buildings which give them their character."

BBC News: Challenge to Victorian demolition
PLACE Blog: UAHS objection to redevelopment on Queen Street

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Age Awareness Week at PSSquared

Image via

30th Sept - 3rd Oct: Another chance to see Joan Alexander's powerful Home Front portraits at PS Squared this week, together with Lyndsey McDougall's embroidered portraits. Way Home exhibition for Age Awareness week

Friday, 25 September 2009

Forum for Alternative Belfast Summer School 2009 - A View

A view of the courtyard of the Keir building, with Belfast surrounding - image from Wikipedia

John Graham discusses some of the issues coming out of the 2009 Summer School recently held by the Forum for Alternative Belfast.

I wonder if the Forum has been an expression of the paradox of inertia that is present on the Belfast landscape. The fact there is a mix of opinion forming examinations. Some from an economic imperative. Some from a recycled town planning objective. Some with a dispersal background - continuing the patterns of the recent past. Some with no constraint of an agreed path and heightened by greed not need. Some media generalities and a lot falsehoods fashioned around a paucity of research or interest and even determination to inform. There is a tapestry of lots of mixed messages and even built
examples, which defy belief in some quarters.

Where this exists though hope and optimism can flame the kindling which the Forum has brought forward. Examining the challenges through exploratory openness and reasoned debate added to an all too forgotten, negated and sidelined aspect of community - robust inclusion of community in place of a territory for exploitation.

Instead of the backward thinking associated with greed over need and spin meister indoctrination of stalled governance and intellect there is a capacity recognised for change. And much desired change. The appetite and awareness is manifest in the continuing metamorphosis of the Forum and its engagement at all levels.

The manifesto and subject have a certain enormity. Yet the scale of the task and the case for raising issues and examining them is the first step towards resolution of some basic problems and fundamentally flawed approaches. The evidence base is being assembled and looked at through the Forum. Out of it need arise clearer understanding of the challenges presented.

The paradox of inertia is the focus of the Forum. It brought with it, the do it through robust and unfettered independent thought, in the medium of collective resourcefulness. From the studio of the School of Architecture/Town Planning room at the top floor of the David Kier building the view favoured the green topped urban landscape of South Belfast and out to the hills of the East. Stormont visible in the distance sitting stubbornly attached to its hill as if defying the sliding reality of the mechanisms of politics. The sun was cast upon a calming and relatively cohesive vision of Belfast. In the East a nucleus of industry in the Shipyard estate, the airport. The greenery was there in large part through the parks, Botanic, Ormeau and this landscape seemed to carefully and randomly merge with the hills.

How different the opposite view where the hills rise quickly and arrestingly. Where the hills are seemingly hostile environments and attempts at codifying access has ran into a wild west field of recreation.

The topography and natural separations have been logged into Belfast’s fabric for hundreds of years and in the last period, the hostile period, it has become a victim of its aggressive discontent. A legacy of imported defensive Architectural and Town Planning design in Northern Ireland and then some. One query often coming up was that of dereliction and its origin. What has been the cause of dereliction?

I would lay it at the feet of institutionalised crisis management and the coat tailing lobby of sectional interests of all shades of narrowness, it expands further.

Town Planning has despoiled the residential areas and in the south even allowed a kind of sectarianism to happen. Over large parts of the area the densities have increased, the population made transient, the long term residents pressured out and new buyers blocked out by grant aided schemes and a dominant form of occupancy. Decent family homes have not been reformed, remodelled, instead they have been subjected to internal carve ups which teeter on the lowest level of spatial need. They also bring forward hybrid notions of standards. Not applied anywhere else. At a previous Forum discussion the subject of the wretched spatial standards we continue to perpetuate was noted, added to which is the non-evolution of better forms of living. The extent of child poverty is not even on the radar. That NI still has some of the worst housing conditions in the islands and has a large housing waiting list looking incapable of redress is focus enough presently.

While politicians and others claim governance over their budgets and perform stunts to reclaim tokens for constituents they themselves indulge in the property merry-go-round though even their dumbness and greed is set for a mood change. The introductory film reels off the visual, as Source has done over the years with images of the static, a
portrait of a troubled and segregated city. No longer entangled with the shackles of historical dispute, (we have agreed to disagree that disagreement is destructive and agree we must move on by turning backwards and forwards in unison), but now also dealing with the backwash up the Lough of years of tribal planning and exercises in containment. The economic wars are upon the population as are the ever changing atmospheric imponderables presented by environmental change and the wonderment of discoveries and expanse of knowledge achieved through science. Many of the certitudes and hardened attitudes are being bent by change. Forced into radically thinking and not applying the gathering of information for purposes other than holding onto it, repackaging it in unfeasibility studies and casting it out as work accomplished. Change exists in the present. From one second to the next as it always has. There is also an adjustment taking place with mankind in response to the onerous demands of planet living.

Unmistakably, and the view from the studio testifies to it, the sudden downpours, the blistering sunshine, the wind thrown tree tops and the boiling greenery show us that nature dictates and also empowers us. The built environment of Belfast sometimes acknowledges this and occasionally it pointedly indicates a way forward. Without nature and the capacity to feed nations and cities nothing of our making survives. It becomes consigned to a temporary history made and forgotten and remade as the times require. It was an act of kindness using the predication Summer School in a truly Irish summer. Northern Ireland and the Island of Ireland has survived in its form through its management of land and its survival depends on the productiveness of that land. Be it in educating the brains to command suitable endeavours and futures, be it expressing life, be it exploring who and what we are. It is all in, as the Frank Mitchell book title neatly puts it, examined in Reading the Irish Landscape. The book has a revelatory significance as it links the human to the landscape. There is a sociological portrait of the island and its relation to nature at the basic level which confounds us and inspires us. It reminds us much is unknown yet we still believe in some dreary absolutes.

Times shifts us forward and it does it on our landscape.

The climate has put heavy demands on infrastructure and environmental response.

Northern Ireland according to some does not do vision. Its potential is actually largely untapped though and if the nurturing of its roots are not cut off with dated gardening techniques, which head always in the direction of chemical warfare, then it will continue to be disabled.

The Forum is as much about conceptual change and alternative views of the future as it is about using acquired skills, experience and knowledge in an attempt to fashion some built environment that can be shared and be useful to all.

A key part was identifying the linkages across the river which have become neglected in the hospitable sense, are hostile environments and devoted to car movements basically. When the Titanic section was mentioned the chains of linkage appeared. It was as if an anchor was thrown out but what is on either end of the chain is barely defined or firmly conceived. A one act play or brand which brooks companionship with a college and another stream of financial HQs and a package of land filled opportunities complete with a gift shop furnished with crystal glass from China no doubt.

A great deal more than the seed capital is needed for around 185 acres of a small part of the entire estate. The detachments, gates are already evident. The connections and directions are not. At the Lough location, the present phase if one exists, (an inertia is mainly apparent and more apt a description,) is a Baltimorisation of the natural assets. Creating copies of dated responses in belated hope and expectation. So dominant is the Lough feature all manner of attachments and reshaped sentiments are gathered to project an idea upon the space beside it. Impressive towers poke upwards insightfully raising expectations?

No vision of a knowledge based/medical based community or other but a catalyst of tourism. Instead water features and landmark buildings are the extent of inspiration development.

The existing clutter of street level buildings erodes any sense of the nature of tall buildings in the midst of this area. The forgotten trade marks of this type of design - part of a city grid, or district pattern, of street level courtyards - that they ease up areas of the street - become informal courts and the meeting places between are in the public realm is all absent. Instead the payoff for the top bit is the sacrifice of the lower bit and with it a spatial land grab.

It borrows (poorly) any attachments instead of contributing to them. The Lough provides no spatial help either as there are only a few in the city who can walk on water. Out of the David Kier building you do not have to look far to see how it should be done with the white decoratively restrained Ashby Building which sits back from the road and delivers into the centre of the Stranmillis village a little patch of additional and important green. The fact is the tall Ashby Building relies heavily on the space at its foot in its design as townscape. It even succeeds in being of place, strengthening identity and a sense of place. It has also become a visible landmark from some roads and bridges around South Belfast. It may seem bogus or pretentious to claim other benefits of the Ashby Building but it is a defined sense of time and place which most locals will recognise.

The school tried to vigorously examine and present their findings as well as enabling peoples sightlines to be improved and raised by looking at the city by applying observational skills and assigning reason to it.

Being in the David Kier Building; it is in the Telephone exchange tradition of masterful brickwork and august rigour, I thought as I looked around the spaces within it, that the large wall mounted map enjoyed the height of the space and having light cascading in from the South and the students and assembled were able to be uplifted by it.

The internal space had given room for some free thinking, it did not constrain or limit. The building has covered and open courtyards with generous core staircases and free and clear movement. All done under large span steel and bolted technologies. No welding or concealment and decorative expectation.

The map was like a symbol of reverse engineering the city and the functional backdrop unwittingly played a part. The Summer school had this willing assistant as a memory of the past, in the form of the building and a versatility of use. The expectations are not dissimilar in the new University Building for its capacity to facilitate thought and inspire. One wonders.

The view from the upper levels of the Kier building are interesting in lots of ways. There we see conventions of land use, parks, roads, residential, commerce and the tacked on interventions of out of centre shopping. Consumer logic pails significantly, becomes a back flip on the experiences the recent history has played out. The energies and evidence of value added endeavour do not look good when summoned to thought. It has a rather chaotic and un-uniform look to it. Any sense of a city in progress or a society in concert is absent. The severity of the difficulties presented by the recent past has not been realised. The future restructures itself with or without intervention, the future possibilities depend on preparation as well as what awaits.

Find it.

Imagine a boulevard Belfast, opening up the savaged, torn strips of community binding and boundaries. How can a visitor walk out of the centre into any area? It only appears comfortable purviewed from a bus or special taxi. Drop the inner city speed for any vehicle to 20 mph. Find out how public transport can best develop without the enforced congestion of personalised transport.

The shifting possibilities of transport will in any case very quickly take on Moore’s Law in degrees of efficiency and energy use as to become almost axiomatic. A long way to go yet but not so long in timescale terms it sometimes seems. How then the old street patterns and means of distributing goods and persons?

The main cost is in freeing up and reforming established routes and making better use of existing infrastructure. Imagine the boundary walls of community being brought to ground level and in their place a seat or bench a place to stop and talk or reflect. The removal of the Berlin Wall became as much a linear division which required to remain in some form, in locality in order it could be confronted and made plain. So it became, not something we looked over, but something you could walk over. Belfast has no less potential.

The Forum presented several examples on which several aspects of the approach to design and remodelling had been taken forward. It pointed to the need for consolidated thought and an appraisal of the Town Planning needs. Becoming signatories to proposals which are under evaluated, wrongly centred and without a basis of good practice and exemplary design serves only short term interests. Nowhere is any accord with social need embraced.

A ‘master plan’ is not a strategy, an urban plan is a carefully formed piece of quality objectives. It requires to be responsive and based on continued nuancing and adjustment in the way master plans cannot. Narrow, all encompassing solutions tend to fail, and fail spectacularly. There is an intent already clear in making Belfast a place of academical excellence, to build on the exposure to learning and the immediacy of requirements to service the future with clever, smart, intelligence based ideas.

Major US cities have been ravaged by scale and large industry has imploded in some cities, their core industries fallen. Belfast’s scale is small in comparison with most cities of its industrialised type. The city has though a unique position as being one of the few on the island. Most Irish cities are ports and sea dependent. The Harbour is becoming a key element in Belfast again but without the previous levels of manpower. It has advanced and altered without carrying industry with it. Instead it has become the servant of the consumer politic. The first educational lesson will be that the industrial age is in dry dock and no replacement industries other than services exchanges are in their place and they are transitory and unencumbered by boundaries or allegiances. There will be future forensics on this phase that will present some obvious directional nonsenses.

The examination of the patient is incomplete but there is reason to consider the forms of intervention previously taken have in large parts failed.

A great deal is owed to the 40 to 50 or so persons who sat down and sifted through all manner of information to arrive at some analysis of the condition. Like doctors they worked on the physiological structure the Belfast DNA was made of and they looked at the life support systems that made it function. There was a lot of head shaking disbelief at the actualities, at the prognosis, at the explanations of the topographical images seen in visual confrontations. Some anticipated the visceral, were there perhaps to see magical solutions arise on the screens, however the reality is as always slowly revelatory. Otherwise we would have done things differently and better.

It was as C. S. Lewis found when traversing the border of the real and unreal. This is Strandtown but not as I know it, this is the Mournes but not as I know it. The invisibility of the DNA was something not even contemplated in that age yet we reference it all the time as a genus loci. Good reason could have it that all cities are amorphous and the purpose and heartbeat constantly changes. Belfast's DNA is suitably complex and challenging.

Nevertheless by exploring things as they seemed to appear, the observations catalogued and presented, it was possible to determine how they actually were. The maps once they started to appear unwittingly or intentionally had a lot of red on them.

It was a creation of matured clinical difficulties in an operating theatre.

Where the leg operates the arm is barely functioning, where air is required it is absent and thin, where verdant gardens flourish excess is encountered in temporal fusion. Wild imaginings overcome logic and the will is rendered lost.

Without the encumbrance of the normal formalised constraints the purview could be brought into focus. This can produce in equal quantities dismay and hope. The fundamental requirement is however to not only be cognisant of the facts but to realise the scope to act and improve the outlook and enable progression, it is after all a necessity.

As well as the works in progress and the continued discussions around moving some forward there were several instances of an unsatisfied appetite for the information needed to give studied and timely consideration to elements of interest. The main difficulty was in consolidating the database and finding a route for it to take. In scarcely 4 days the team had put together a robust level of the status of most of the cities buildings in terms of their use and occupancy and also identified the outlying derelict scraps and not so scrap of the euphemism brownfield sections.

It was a stark exercise and the debates and faffing around garden land grabbing were neatly contrasted with some actual figures and indicators. The photographic evidence brought some honesty forward. In order to make best use of this information and to see it does not become swamped under counter intelligence moves by the usual suspects, it is worth bearing in mind the campaign underway to FREE OUR DATA as is locked away under the control of OS Ordnance Survey and introducing it to the link world of the internet. The Digital Britain project currently has it in its sights but the detail and outworking of the OS Data usage has several things to overcome.

Many people wish to have access to and make use of this evolving data and are outside of Town Planning, the natural home of such information. Many other sectors recognise the value and potential in having collective ownership of the DATA and allowing it to be designed forward to encapsulate many digital uses.

The Land Registry could use it, there could be a live register in use for all property and land. Agricultural, Health and Social agencies could set up their own layers of information and make it work for improved practice.

All manner of uses could be found for it and the Public could access information which many preciously make their life’s work to hang on to. Flood Plain maps, Geological maps, Population dispersal maps and many other packages of information could be established using the Ordnance Survey Data as the central component. The Database. Many industries and professionals are now familiar with the use of layered information in IT and it is in use in very many aspects of our lives already. Some readiness to extend its potential and knowledge gathering forward is clearly needed. One commentator at the recent discussion brought forward the notion of it being a Wikipedia type database and while this is not the ideal model, (it has no ‘public’ responsibility) it is not far from the requirement and need.

The FREE OUR DATA quest is a larger and potentially valuable concept to be hold of in forward discussions and indeed actions. Government is distinctly in need of such fundamental change and it is undergoing many aspects of IT management which it has so far failed to properly deliver. The OS provides a model and the Planning models etc. can all be linked across formats. NI has already, it appears, spent a colossal sum in putting Planning details on line and has yet to achieve it. There is need of a breakthrough and a general acceptance of approach is needed for it to not prove impossible in the short and long term.

CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment)
For a long time it has been evident the design of the urban areas has been displaced to align with commercial and movement imperatives. The design of buildings stops at the elevations in many instances and the spaces between building has become a battle of clutter, identity and image. Temporary elements are always present and when Belfast hosted the Tall Ships even the main streets had contractors' Tonka toys, hoardings and lines of plastic bricks shepherding visitors and locals around the centre. Even the riverside was not functioning as a continuous walkway and surfaces failed the task put to them. A clear up of sorts happened but it showed the city had yet to understand people.

Outsiders look at Belfast from the perspective of their own experiences. Some of the extreme expectations have been hopefully overcome and are not to be found.

Nevertheless the striking thing about Belfast to an outsider on a tour of European cities must firstly be how uniform it is becoming in comparison with cities near and far. Add on the scarring and planning debris of the past few decades and there is a view of transition, not quite together, struggle for cohesion. All this is evident in the Forum examinations. The means of pursuing a better rationale for cityscapes has been advanced by various cities. Helsinki, Copenhagen were mentioned. The formation in England of the unit, CABE, Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, has realised a lot of successful interventions with councils and procurement agencies at several levels. Its purpose is proven and its benefits are evident. Northern Ireland needs also to confront the mediocrity of everyday design seek out decent design and demand that anyone wishing to construct something, have it put down as part of our built fabric must do so in a decent manner. The infancy of the MAG group has well meaning direction however it needs clout and activated programmes to lead the debate forward and out of its malaise and contradictory aspects. It must not dictate alone on the ‘elite’ proposals but get into the very basics including the spaces between buildings.

The quality of architecture needs to radically improve and that includes all forms of public architecture. It needs also to be real about the ‘eco-towns’ it flags up in arable countryside, where ‘non-towns’ expand as dormitory motorway suburbs with all the strain taken by the city. These nonsensical schemes need halted.

The information gap is one which was unknown to our forefathers, the OS co-ordination of mapping and building occupancy and usage was a very strategic part of public information use. Whether you needed to know or not, it could tell you pre-1840, that the city centre was full of all kinds of teaching establishments, even boarding schools, 4 pupils, 30 pupils etc, teaching everything you needed to know on mathematics, Latin, drawing, primitive sciences et al.

It also told of the numbers of churches, inns, timber yards, dog yards, brickworks. Every conceivable use the city was put to was recorded. It then could also point to the odd phenomenon that in the Ann Street area, dozens of straw hat manufacturers took up their trade. Striving for an efficiency - of sorts.

Is the city so uniform it does not require this degree of scrutiny and record of usage? The point is, it is not, as the witness of dereliction has been inescapable, and questions of intent of usages are not to be avoided. One site mentioned is Berry Street, the pre-history of which includes the Belfast Dispensary and Fever Hospital. There is a long roll call of delinquent sites and continued documentation, an overall live register would enable some thinking to overlap for once.

I noted in recent times a bewildering indictment of how far back practice has fallen when I noted a local government advertisement seeking Consultants to determine the best methods of obtaining good school design. There are many stepping of points for that but surely it has not been the educationalists design that they have forgotten the principles of procurement and cannot dovetail with larger and detailed examinations of the very same difficulties already produced. The debate on school design has been the subject of creative criticism through CABE, various providers and ministers ‘who know’ in the UK. One stepping off point is the example set through charitable status in producing decent schools, The Coram Foundation. An exemplar, if there was one of providing the right primary facilities.

When you look at building types and aspire to a form of architecture very little of the meaning is gathered. The colonnades and walkways for example get lost in translation. They are borne out of the andante pace of historical cities and searing heat. The shade is a place of functional architecture and we must also determine the need and capacity of such entities in design of the city. Instead of trying to appear as a grand city such as Rome and five centuries of nurturing we need look to alternatives.

The red brick Bologna (35 kilometres of shade!) - was beset by war but was able to hold onto its identity and as an active preservation. Not some dreamed up notional paddywhackery for the simple consumption of others.

It belies Belfast’s potential as well as becoming deceitful about the past. There are other comparators and many smart ideas which cut across the crude across-the-board solutions which appear in any other venture would be dismissed.

There was no reference to a reliance on the Regional Development Strategy which is coming forward. Its core strategies are insufficiently defined and its scope and ambition only that. No actual projections can be made under the cloak of an economic catastrophe. No alternative economic model has been constructed to fashion the ‘Chinese dollar’ into the equation. A single currency I see as the Axiom.

Without a linkage between all costs and uniformity the expectations and projections are fanciful and unanchored. It is then an agency concern to produce its own corn, the presence of gross mental indolence, of obdurate spin and hype needs to be consigned to history. The Public Service model is in need of returning to being the servant of the people and not the exchange counter for dubious third party service provisions. Housing provision has been a prime example of the collective failure to meet the issues and like a stone in a pond the outward rings of its corrupt market has been damaging beyond its initial leverage. The first ring being the 1988 Housing Act on which every subsequent Housing decision was formed.

Subjects for discussion are numerous, including:

Eradicating Poverty.
Land reform.
Town Planning.
Town Management.
Rural Management.
Genus Loci.
2011 changeover.

as well as the abstract, bells and whistles and content?, homogenous design, bitter fruit, inference and perception. There are many other elements.

From the curse of the past 200 years, (from one period of enlightenment) there is a realisation it has run its course and there is, almost out of brinkmanship and grief held over continental divisions, a new spirit of enlightenment. It is not inconceivable to have upon us the relative and new proximity of nurtured global pathways.

Decisive and dynamic negation of the ineffective, centrifugal politics of old and a structure of centripetal paradigms. They all might not be exacting and precisely identical but disposed to location and its capabilities alone and joined.

It will be youth who determine the means of appropriating this future and it is their understanding of the inbuilt and systems of the everyday that will enable their futures.

The underpinning ongoing development is the access to core knowledge and uncompromising freedom of thought brought through digital means.

Many ’unintended consequences’ of information access are apparent and some are very harmful. Formerly ’stable’ societies are disrupted in a moment and destroyed or disfigured through digital access. The evolution is in dealing with its reality.

A recent study, RSA Social Brain project, has it, to put it crudely, that the right-wing emphasis of human willpower overcoming the environment, derives from childhood depravation scarring. On the other that to co-operate and seek out overall approval inhibits creativity and exploration for the sake of it.

Neither is integrally correct as the need for formal systems, management is well understood, it is in place to counter stupidity for the most part. If we were to act intelligently and smartly then these elements would not inhibit forward thought.

Remodelling the financial landscape has become a 21st century affliction brought on by two major economies China, India, having their industrial revolution in the space of a few decades. Except it did not go according to plan and is stalled on the premise that the Western model worked. Bring into it enforced environmental change, most of it driven by this phenomenon being allied to Western culture then there is unmistakably a need for new solutions and unheard and unspoken ones. A reliance on science would only partially create a correction and then only, with adjusted models, unpractised, unheralded. The immediacy brings with it peril as well as potential.

The posture of risk averse is not wholly beneficial, it inhibits trial and occasional error, but also the debt driven growth is a legacy of former times - which informs basically every aspect of planning going forward.

The models of doing just in time business are also undermined as the strain is felt at all levels. Cleverness, smart business and organic growth is required now as never before.

This is fundamental. The need to put in place the instruments to allow all the factors to be openly viewed and built upon is essential. The instruments are the information strands. A layered version of the OS data could bring with it access to a live register. It could link with Planning and Land Registry. It could also be of use for many society groups and individuals. Indeed the pressure on the OS to free their data comes not in the main from planning/built environment interests but many different and additional strands of community.

Every venture has some peril and the security of information is important and requires proper management - however the digital age has ways of taking care to build reputation, and therefore integrity, and this can be embraced.


John Graham is a "lapsed architectural type" living in Belfast with a continuing interest in the standards adpoted around housing and the core dynamics it calls up for everyone.

Abram Games: Maximum Meaning, Minimum Means

1942 Public Information poster by Abram Games; image via

A collection of the posters and designs of Abram Games is on show at the Naughton Gallery at Queen's until October 11th. have produced the online exhibition guide below - the work is introduced by Naomi and Daniel Games, Abram's daughter and son.

More info: The Naughton Gallery ;

Saturday, 12 September 2009

On the Telly

Image: Union Street, Aberdeen from ajs43705 on flickr

Two Three new series by architecture critics have recently started on BBC Two, BBC Four & Channel 4 with Tom Dychoff using examples across the UK to explore various issues of conservation and heritage in Saving Briatin's Past - so far he has visited the city of Bath, the Park Hill estate in Sheffield (mentioned here in reference to another TV programme earlier in the year) and country houses. In the next episode he goes to Covent Garden market.

Saving Britain's Past is available on iPlayer until mid-October - watch it here

Jonathan Meades, meanwhile, is a writer and broadcaster who doesn't seem to mind that he'll have most of his audience reaching for the dictionary at least once every two minutes. His new series Off-Kilter, a three-part tour around Scotland, starts off with Meades praising Aberdeen's "brand new" 300-year old granite buildings. The camerawork and music are an elegant complement to his laconic style.

Jonathan Meades: Off-Kilter will be available on iPlayer until 30th Sept - watch it here

And Kevin McCloud's Grand Tour continues on Channel 4, visiting Paris, Florence, Rome to trace the influence on UK architecture.

Available on 4oD

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Hollywood Transition Town Week 2009

Click to enlarge for more details

A week of events celebrating Holywood’s first anniversary as a Transition Town

Project website:

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Green Roofs seminar

Green roofs seminar, Wed 16th September - click the images to enlarge for more details

Canadian John Garnett, President of Business Development for ELT EasyGreen, is an authority on Green Roofs and implementing sustainable environmental technologies into dwellings and work spaces.

He is hosting a seminar on this highly relevant subject in Belfast City Centre on
Wednesday 16th September at Belfast’s Ramada Encore Hotel (beside St Anne’s Cathedral)

Optional times: 10.30am for 11am or 2.30pm for 3pm
Refreshments available.

RSVP by Mon 14th Sept 09 to [email protected]

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Image from the EChO-Mansion project on Re-Burbia

Reburbia, a project looking at reimagining the American suburbs, has announced its finalists.

Project website: Reburbia

Friday, 14 August 2009

"The living room was so small there was only room for three people to sit down"

From the Guardian earlier in the week, a report on space standards in newly-built private homes:

The survey of 2,249 householders who bought homes built between 2003 and 2006 in London and the surrounding counties found that 47% did not have enough room for all the furniture they had or would like to have and 57% did not have enough storage.

The space standards which were recently adopted in London and mentioned in the article have not been taken up in Northern Ireland or anywhere else throughout the UK, as was noted at the discussion on social housing and participation at the Golden Thread Gallery last month, as part of their Unbuilt exhibition.

Guardian: No room to cook dinner or seat guests? Welcome to 'rabbit hutch Britain'
Guardian: Obsessed with house prices, we ignore the cost of lives spent in shoddy homes - Lynsey Hanley

Friday, 7 August 2009

UAHS objection to redevelopment on Queen Street

Image: EdCo and Athletic Stores, Queen Street, Belfast by Gerry Ward on flickr

From the BBC news site:
Heritage campaigners may launch a legal bid to stop a developer from demolishing an Edwardian building in Belfast city centre and replacing it with a nine storey apartment block.

The former warehouse was constructed in 1911 and stands at the corner of Queen Street and College Street.

It is located within Belfast City Centre Conservation Area, but a planning application to tear it down was passed in June this year with only one objection lodged.

The developer, Carlisle Property Developments Ltd, wants to transform the site into a tower block which will include 69 new apartments, street level shops and an underground car park.

The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society (UAHS) wants a judicial review of the decision and hopes to hear back from the Department of Environment on the issue within days.

BBC News: Belfast building to be demolished (August 7th 2009)